NFL Pick Week 1: Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots
Houston Texans (2017: 4-12 SU, 7-9 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (2017: 15-4 SU, 12-7 ATS)
Date/Time: Sunday September 9, 1 PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Ma.
by Keith Allen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NE -6½ (-105) / Hou +6½ (-115)
Over/Under Total: 51
Tom Brady and the Patriots open the 2018 campaign by welcoming in Deshaun Watson and the Texans. The Pats, who are -1700 to make the playoffs, fell 8 points short of their 6th Super Bowl championship last February. Meanwhile in Houston the Texan season was defined by injuries to superstars on both sides of the ball. Week 3 of last year saw this same match-up in one of the most exciting games on 2017. The Pats scored a last minute touchdown to lock down a 36-33 win in Foxboro, but not before Watson threw for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns.
New England recovered from a 2-2 start in ’17 to finish the regular season 13-3 and earn the #1 seed in the AFC. It’s no surprise the Pats were top 5 in the league in points scored, yards per play and red zone scoring efficiency. Brady at 40 was probably better than Brady at 30, distributing the ball to all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski and a variety of receivers and running backs. New England’s defense allowed the 5th fewest points in the league but were 31st in yards per play against. These stats confirm that the Patriots (read season win total pick) are the ultimate bend but don’t break team, until the Eagles finally were able to break through in the big game.
Houston sat at 3-4 after 7 weeks and could safely proclaim that they had found their quarterback of the future. Watson led the team to 205 points in the previous 5 weeks and was the talk of the league. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in practice prior to the week 9 game and the team could not recover. The Texans would average less than 15 points per game in their final 9 games. The defense had superstars J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for only 5 weeks of the ’17 campaign before each were put on I.R. Houston ended up giving up the most points in the league and were bottom 5 in yards per play. 2017 was a wasted season for the Texans.
TB12 moves the ball and put up points against everyone, and they will be able to do so against Houston. They had almost 400 total yards in last year’s game that was played before the Texans lost their defensive superstars. But the Pats have some roster issues starting the ’18 season. Julian Edelman is out the first 4 weeks of the year, Danny Amendola moved to Miami and Brandin Cooks was sent to Los Angeles leaving Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett as the starting receivers. Dion Lewis was replaced with Sony Michel but Michel is hurt and not likely to be available in week 1. This leaves Rex Burkhead and James White in the backfield. Gronk will be ready to roll and should be heavily relied on. By December this unit can be expected to be clicking on all cylinders but in week 1 there may be some sputters heard in Foxboro.
Barring Watt returning to All-World status – and even if he does – the Texans D will be a weakness this year. However, their defense matches up fairly well against New England. Houston’s defensive line is the strength of the unit and sacked Brady 5 times last year. Nate Solder is no longer guarding Brady’s blind side and the balance of the offensive line is middle of the pack. If Houston wins in the trenches while on defense, New England will be forced to longer 3rd downs and the Texan’s pass rushers will have the opportunity to pin back their ears and go after Brady. Gronk can be double teamed to keep him in check. Brady (sportsbooks set his O/U for passing yards at 4647.5) will find a way to get the Pats in the end-zone but they should not be able to score at will in the opener.
Watson set the NFL world on fire during his 6 starts last year and now that world is eagerly anticipating his 2018 performance. Watson will be throwing to the same primary receivers from last year’s squad – DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller while Lamar Miller will Alfred Blue will man the backfield at least until D’Onta Foreman is ready to go. Watson legs and the passing game will be the primary strength of this offense. The O-line is one of the most porous in the league which will make Watson use his legs more often than he may like. He appears well on his way to being fully recovered from his ACL injury and should be a full go in week 1.
New England’s defense comes into the season with most of the same squad they fielded last year. Malcom Butler left in free agency and will leave a hole at corner back but Stephon Gilmore returns and he should be able to match up with Hopkins as well as anyone can. The Pats were 10th in the league in sacks last year though no one had more than 6.5. They should be able to pressure Watson but last year they were only able to corral him and take him to the ground twice. Overall team speed is a weakness of New England that could be a big problem in week 1.
I like the Texans getting 6½ in this one. The betting public should be careful going against Belichick and Brady, as shown by their 11-5 record against the spread during last year’s regular slate. But this one sets up well for the road dogs. Two of the 5 games the Pats failed to cover last year were the Texans game and the opener when the Pats got out-played by the Chiefs. I expect the Pats will still be working through some personnel issues and Belichick has proved his concern is the long term good of the team. He wants the team playing their best in December and uses the early games to make his team better for the long season. I expect this game to be a close shoot-out which may play out the same as last year’s week 3 game when the team that had the ball last got the W, but only by 3 points.
Take the 6½ points with the Texans and expect this game to be close. I think Over 51 is also a very good play in this one. It’s a high number, but there were 69 points scored in the week 3 game between these 2 teams last year and the same number in the Pats opener against the Chiefs.
The Cowboy offense was not the same machine in 2017 as it was in 2016. The 2016 offense scored 421 points while averaging 6.0 yards per play, compared to 354 points and 5.3 ypp in 2017. Keith Allen takes a hard look at why Dallas shouldn’t be picked to beat their season win total line of 8.5.